Printing pieces of furniture in just a few minutes

At MIT, researchers have developed a 3D printing technique that can produce large objects in the same amount of time as regular printers. The research group, called Self-Assembly Lab, created this printer together with US furniture company Steelcase, based on a process known as Rapid Liquid Printing. This involves extruding material from a nozzle in to gel using a computer.

The question that started this was “Could you print pieces of furniture in minutes?”. This made the researches look at 3D printers from a different perspective. They wanted to challenge three main things they believe have prevented 3D printing as a use of manufacturing: speed, scale and material properties.

Most 3D printers only allows you to print in a small scale. Most of the printers processes utilises layers which degrade the structural property of the material compared to a consistent material. Rapid Liquid Printing lets the robotic aperture draw freely in the 3D space, with the size of the tank as its only limits.

The gel suspend the extruded material and makes it work freely with gravity and does not require a base plate to build upon. The team has also experimented with other materials, such as plastic, rubber and polyurethanes with different properties. In every situation, two materials have been mixed together in the nozzle to chemically cure as they extrude. The material is then pushed out like toothpaste from a tube.

Steelcase thinks the technology is an important step in developing customisable products. Skylar Tibbits, lab director, see even bigger potential. He believes it could be used in any large-scale manufacturing, such as aerospace, automotive and architectural applications.

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